Nauru refugee taped phone call with doctor who calls system 'broken' as they wait for MRI

Nauru refugee taped phone call with doctor who calls system 'broken' as they wait for MRI

Nauru refugee taped phone call with doctor who calls system 'broken' as they wait for MRI

Updated 15 May 2017, 11:30 AEST

An Afghan refugee on Nauru claims he has been waiting 10 months for an MRI, despite complaining about acute headaches and spells of unconsciousness.

Key points:

  • In taped conversation obtained by AM doctor describes the medical system as "broken"
  • Refugee has a painful skin condition, headaches so severe he often falls unconscious
  • Doctors advised the refugee needed an MRI, which requires he be flown overseas

In a taped conversation obtained by AM, the refugee's doctor on Nauru described the medical system there as "broken".

In the phone conversation, taped by the refugee 'Khan', a doctor at the regional processing centre in Nauru discusses Khan's condition with him.

"I've got to be careful, I've got to promise you what I can deliver," the doctor said.

"I'll take it again, I asked all the questions last time, why is this matter still here? Why hasn't it been done? He's been waiting for seven months at least."

Khan has a painful skin condition and headaches that are so severe he often falls unconscious.

Unable to properly diagnose his condition, doctors have said he needs an MRI examination.

But that requires Khan being flown overseas. And the local hospital, known as the RON, has not approved the transfer.

In the taped conversation, Khan's doctor asks him when he last saw a specialist at RON.

Khan says he believes he last saw someone "two or three weeks ago".

"What did they say?" the doctor said.

"They say nothing, just she [a doctor] told me to write it down for her, a letter for you to, we need the test… but I didn't get any update," Khan said.

Working for International Health Medical Services that provides medical staff to the refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, the doctor in the conversation has seen Khan a number of times.

"I will ask the RON again, OK, I will ask the RON again and I will put in this happened and this happened," the doctor said.

"Because I have in your notes here that doctors at the RON have said, 'yes, you need to go, you need an MRI'."

The doctor goes on to say that Khan was not the only refugee experiencing delays in treatments.

"This system here is broken," the doctor said.

"The system is broken but we are suffering … and we have to talk to you. We can't go straight to talking to the Immigration or the Government," Khan said.

The conversation was taped by Khan in February, but he told AM that he was still waiting to have the MRI.

And he said his symptoms had not improved since then.

"I'm hurt so many times, because I just fall down the floor, sometimes the toilet, sometimes in house, sometimes outside," he said.

"We are helpless, but we just still pushing till they do something. But still nothing. Still I didn't get any updates."

All too familiar, former immigration doctor says

Former immigration doctor turned whistle blower, Dr John-Paul Sanggaran, listened to the recording and said it sounded all too familiar from when he was working on Christmas Island.

"It sounds very much like a conversation that I've had many many times with individuals inside immigration detention," he said.

"Where frustratingly you've tried to access some kind of healthcare for them and you've waited an it's fallen through and nothing's happened.

"And then you've repeated these requests by ringing up the management and repeat the request and again, nothing's happened.

"And all the time this person in front of you continues to suffer and even deteriorate."

During Dr Sanggaran's time working on Christmas Island he said access to medical care was limited.

"It can be often very frustrating due to a lack of resources, very difficult for patients to access specialists," he said.

A spokesperson from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the overseas referral process was under the management of the Government of Nauru.